Whoopie Pies

Apparently, back in October when I made pumpkin whoopie pies for the girls’ Halloween party, I was part of a trend sweeping the nation! The NYT recently featured a piece on the moment of the whoopie pie, comparing it to the rise of the cupcake and includes the adjective “whoopie-esque,” which I imagine gave the reporter a few giggles. In Pennsylvania, you can even be crowned a Whoopie Pie Queen, but they are most beloved in Maine.

The NYT thinks it’s indicative of people returning to treats and small comforts in harsh economic times, rather like Shirley Temple’s skyrocket to popularity during the Great Depression. The ladies at Jezebel are skeptical. But are there really people out there surprised to hear that people enjoy treats and the flavors of our childhood? Sure, maybe you don’t miss every single thing your family cooked, but foods like peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, hot chocolate, grilled cheese sandwiches, cupcakes or whoopie pies– they’re certainly favorites in my culinary rotation, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I know they’re all full of carbs, fats and sugar, but can fifty million carb-fats-and-sugar fans be entirely wrong?

AIG

I saw an article somewhere today titled “When Bonus Contracts Can Be Broken,” which I assume tried to explain to readers why AIG is giving out millions in contractual bonuses in a year when the company nearly went bankrupt and was part of a ripple effect that has majorly crippled the US economy.

But I didn’t click on it, even though I think I am probably their target audience. I don’t know anything about bonuses. I have never received a bonus, and neither has my husband, my sister, my mother, my father or my stepmother. If you’re a regular reader, you can guess why, but I’ll spell it out anyway.

Everyone in my immediate family is either a career teacher, a career public servant, or both. We don’t get bonuses– in return, the trade-off is supposed to be benefits and stability. But in a year when states are laying off workers, and in a climate when teachers are continually accused and undermined for trying to do their jobs in ludicrous conditions, that trade-off is looking less like a fair deal. Of course, we are also supposed to be secure in the knowledge that we are providing a public service to our great country, and not be remunerated for that service in a monetary style. We are idealists; we are above that.

So I am not really concerned with bonus law, because I don’t think I will ever get one. I’m just a teacher, after all. And I could say I was outraged or in disbelief about AIG’s seeming shamelessness and stupidity, but then, how could anyone feel that way after everything that’s happened recently?

I wouldn’t say no to a dividend check though, now that we own 80% of the company.

Teaching the Iceberg Theory

Checking my stats is such an interesting exercise for me in seeing how search terms work, and all the different avenues people take to find their way here. This, however, is the first blog post I’ve written in response to those stats, which is also kind of neat.

I first posted about Hemingway’s Iceberg theory way back in July 2007, when I was thinking of it only as a writer of short fiction, not as an English teacher. Since then, I haven’t attempted any more short fiction, but I have been teaching it more and more, and blogged about it from that perspective too. I think in that entry, I forgot to mention that I’d used Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral” when teaching August Wilson’s “Fences”, which was a pairing that worked well. Next year I’m adding A Doll’s House and thinking about teaching The Yellow Wallpaper to go alongside it. Teaching texts together is one of my favorite ways to teach literature, especially when it’s one longer text paired with a shorter one, or two similar texts together.

Anyway, I blogged about the Iceberg theory way back when and thought no more about it, but it is consistently one of the regular terms that leads people here, so I’ve been giving it some thought lately. How would you teach this theory, apart from just throwing it out there and having the students discuss for awhile?

Here’s two ideas I’ve been thinking of:

* give them a short story or passage that is thick with description and embellishment– maybe something from Dickens, or even Henry James or Edith Wharton. Then ask them to remove anything from the story that could be removed, and see what peaks of the iceberg they’re left with, and how much they can trim away while still retaining the necessary elements. I’d allow for minor adjustments along the way. You could also give them a sparsely written story (anything from Hemingway) and have them see what they can add. This might also be a nice way students to think about authorial intent, and how carefully chosen those words are in the first place.

* after giving them Hills Like White Elephants and after they’ve read it and discussed it for awhile, they could chart out the peaks of the icebergs. In my head, this looks a bit like a timeline– one horizontal line across the middle of the page, with lines of dialogue slanting towards the top and notes on what’s remaining unsaid slanting toward the bottom, if that makes sense.

These are not tested ideas, of course, but I’d be willing to try either one in a classroom next year. In my classes, the numbers are usually small, so I’d have them work on either or both of those activities in pairs or small groups. In a larger group, maybe you could split the group in half and have them work on both activities simultaneously, and then compare what they learned.

If you found your way here through this search, I’d be interested in any ideas you care to share, and if you’re a regular reader, I hope this was at least tangentially entertaining for you as well!

Making Meme

I realized recently, after the advent of the new Facebook design (which I hate so far), that I’ve written more notes than I’ve posted photos or videos– I’m a writer in every medium, apparently.

One of my recent notes was in response to an old friend who tagged me for a meme about making things. Specifically, if you post the note, you promise to make something for the first five people who respond, something handmade, real-world, and tangible. She tagged me, I commented so I would receive something from her, and then I reposted the note and am already thinking about what to make for the five friends who commented on mine. I pounced on this meme because it reminded me of 52 Projects: Random Acts of Everyday Creativity, a book I bought with great intentions but have sadly not delved into the way I’d hoped. Maybe that would be a good regular blogging feature once school is over…..

Anyway, I’m thinking baked goods will definitely be on the list, if I can figure out the best way to ship them to Alabama, Wisconsin and Oregon. I’ve been thinking about crocheting lately, so a little afghan square might be a nice addition, or even a little embroidery. But I’ve also been thinking about something else, something a bit more bold, with a little more daring. I’m going to write each person a poem.

I remember reading in Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within that Natalie Goldberg took a booth at a neighborhood fair and wrote poems on demand for everyone who paid a dollar throughout the day. I am both frightened and enchanted by that idea, so I guess this is my way to test it out a little.

If you think that offer sounds attractive, but you missed the Facebook window, comment and let me know. I may not know you that well, but if you give me a subject prompt, I’ll write you a poem. Maybe it’s your favorite bird (mine is flamingoes), or your favorite food (pizza), or you want a poem with your favorite color in it (the color of the water in the Bahamas). You decide, and I will oblige.

Flu for You

There’s been a nasty flu going around, and this was apparently our week– Sophie came down with it on Monday and stayed home that day and Tuesday, we sent her to school this morning but she was running a fever when I came to check on her Wednesday, so I took her home for the afternoon. While I was there, I checked on Lucy too (the advantages of flexible part-time work), and she had been coughing all morning, so I took her too. We spent all afternoon lounging, coughing, and watching a serious amount of children’s television, including Annie and Wordgirl and more, more, more. They ate plain spaghetti and ice cream and drank juice and water, and we all snuggled together as much as possible. Today was more of the same, only with The Wizard of Oz and The Princess Bride.

I think it’s a sign of how big and independent they seem to me now that I actually enjoyed getting to spend some time in the sickbay– it was kind of a throwback to their toddler days, in a way, when I could encircle them with anything they needed and keep them close under my watchful eye. I am thrilled to have my big strong sassy girls, but it’s nice to cuddle them too, and feel their flushed cheeks and soft hands and the weight of their warm (feverish) bodies as we lay on the couch in the glow of the TV screen.

But now, I must admit, I’m getting a little stir-crazy.

Daily Routines (Blogging Spotlight Three-fer!)

Sometimes I think the best blogs are blogs (unlike mine) that take a narrow area of focus and really do it right. My new favorite of these types is Daily Routines, which pulls together all recorded evidence of the daily routines of “writers, artists and other interesting figures”. They’ve featured a great many so far, from Benjamin Franklin to Simone de Beauvoir to Stephen King, and I’m looking forward to seeing what turns up next.

I found this blog by way of Short Stack, a multi-group blog of Book World editors at the Washington Post. I recently put together a Powerpoint slide show on the decline of print media for my college course this semester, and the numbers are staggering. Everyone seems to agree that if there’s not a revolution, many print versions of the newspaper are going to die off. I can’t speak for everyone, but I know that I read the New York Times and the Baltimore Sun daily, and the Postfrequently, but the only one I pay for is the weekend edition where I get my coupons. I also read Short Stack, and Paper Cuts, the blog done by the book people at the NYT, and over there in my sidebar is Dining at Large, written by the restaurant reviewer at the Sun. I enjoy all three papers and all three blogs, and it doesn’t cost me a cent, so I guess I’m part of the problem, but I can’t help but think the papers themselves jumped into the world of free content without looking first. I maintain subscriptions to magazines still, because I’ve always thought they offer a better tactile and aesthetic experience than newspapers, but there are even more magazines and articles I only read online. As a freelancer who blogs for free, I’m even more part of the problem– some writers believe that writers like me who produce free content are devaluing the content-for-pay out there. I don’t think so, because my blogging is distinctly different from my paid writing, and for me, they all feed on each other in a crucial symbiosis.

In short, I love blogs, I love magazines, I love newspapers, and I don’t want any of them to disappear– but I don’t have the answers for making them all profitable, either. In the meantime, I’ll continue to read for free and produce (some) content for free, and enjoy myself as much as I can along the way.

Writing Drought

I may be the only one who’s noticed, but I haven’t posted here about writing a while. I’ve posted book reviews, I’ve talked about literature and teaching, but I haven’t posted anything specifically about writing. Once I noticed the pattern, I realized why– I haven’t done any writing but blogging in a few weeks now.

Have I done writing-related work? Sure. I went to my first poetry group meeting (but had to skip the most recent one for family issues), I’ve corresponded with an editor I’ve worked with before, which may lead to an assignment, and there’s a call for submissions I’ve been mulling with an April 1 deadline. I’m even thinking about posting calls here, as a reminder for myself. But there was a rather exciting call with a March 4th deadline that I missed, and there are poems in my notebook that need to be revised or polished, and I haven’t started anything new.

Is it writer’s block? Technically, I don’t think so, since I’ve been blogging regularly, and I certainly think of my blogging as writing. I’ve been composing enough that I have a queue of them waiting, so I’m not totally blocked. I’ve been jotting down ideas, revising sentences, polishing paragraphs, so the process is there. I haven’t tried any of the traditional ways to work through it, and I haven’t tried any of the more creative ways either.

I’ve been thinking of it more as writer’s drought: the kind of condition where the ground lies fallow, and I can’t seem to muster up the mental energy to try and nourish it. There hasn’t been anything particularly new in my life, the same juggling, the same patchwork, the same sense of being pulled in many directions. But somehow lately, my creative energies have been laying low.

Recently in Environmental Club, we did a seed-planting activity with the kids involving potting soil, sunflower seeds and a pile of those plastic cups they give kids at restaurants. We read Curious George Plants A Tree and The Tiny Seed and talked about how to nurture them. Soon, I’m going to clear a space in my life and spend some time trying to nurture whatever seeds are lying below that fallow ground.

Watching the World Go By

When I was a dreamy, bookish kid, I spent a lot of time alone. The first home I remember was pretty isolated in the woods, and I spent untold hours in the large rambling yard. The house was built on a slope downward from the street, and the lot petered out somewhere in a deep forest on the southern edge of the yard. My sister was a great adventurer, always hiking through the woods near our house or up and down the street with any neighborhood kids who could keep up with her, but most often on sunny days, you could find me outside, dreaming in the open air with a trusty book at my side.

Now I live in a bustling city and live a relatively hectic life, and my own kids have each other and spent much less time alone than I did. I think that’s both fortunate and less so for them, but for myself, I miss those endless, reflective hours. They are the closest I’ve ever come to living in the moment.

A recent post at Zen Habits about letting the world pass you by really hit home for me. The hours I spend writing and reading are still some of the most fulfilling ones I spend, but how often do I watch the world pass me by? I pride myself on keeping my inbox at a manageable rate, but that means I spent way too much mental energy with a part of my mind always thinking about the steady flow of information I “need” to be a part of to stay on track in my life. I love the constant flow of information I can check in on anytime, but I don’t love the sense that I have let countless hours get sucked away by the Internet.

I’m not giving up Facebook for Lent or anything, though I have a dear friend who is. But I am thinking more and more about spending more time outside, away from the glowing screen, once the weather gets warmer.

Coupon Queen

Yesterday in the grocery store, an older woman came up to me and asked, “Excuse me– where did you get that coupon wallet?” It’s a cheap blue plastic expandable one I got in the dollar bins at Target, I told her, and showed her where the elastic cord was starting to fray, and that I would probably still keep using it when the cord snaps because it’s just so handy. Then we commiserated a little over how hard it is to find a nice coupon wallet that isn’t too big or too complicated.

Then later, in the checkout line, the little screen showed that I had saved a little over $30 on my total bill, between coupons and the store bonus card, and the cashier said, “Ma’am, you did well today! I’d like to go shopping with you sometimes!”

I felt a glow of satisfaction all the way home and thought about all the times I’d watched my stepmother clip and collate her coupons and sales circulars, planning with utmost precision which trips she’d have to make in order to maximize her grocery dollar and score the best possible deals. I have never aspired to that level of organization– I only go to one grocery store, the closest one to my house, and I don’t have shelf upon shelf of stored goods in the basement or a standing freezer down there (though a freezer has started to look more and more attractive lately). I’ve also never tried one of the couponing website services or scavenged extra copies of circulars or coupons from old newspapers thrown out for junk. But I have finally found a couponing system that works for me, and I get a little thrill each time I see the “money saved” total at the end of my receipt.

Here’s what I do: I get the Sunday paper delivered and clip coupons every Sunday. I keep three business-size white envelopes in a large clip on the fridge door, one for each month in a three-month span (right now: March, April, May). Once I’ve clipped all relevant coupons, I file them by expiration date in the envelopes. Then when I go to make a grocery list for the week, I also do a very basic meal planning list. I go through my coupon envelope and make a two-column grocery list, one for the items I have coupons for and the other for items like ground beef, sandwich bread, apples, bananas that may go on special but not for coupons. Once I get to the store, I use the circular to get deals and am willing to adjust my list for the best deals.

What do I use coupons for? Well, I buy most of our yogurt, boxed dry cereal, juice, and frozen vegetables with coupons. Our store gives away free gallons of milk once you’ve bought six, so I keep those coupons, and occasionally the soymilk my husband likes advertises coupons. Many of the coupons I clip are for non-food items– tissues, toilet paper, shampoo, dish soap, sponges, laundry soap, dryer sheets, cleaning products, nail polish, and more. Around the holidays, I had a lot of coupons for sugar, yeast, chocolate chips and other baking staples, and I bought all my Halloween candy with coupons. I come across cat food coupons fairly often, and coupons for eggs and cheese products (like string cheese or bagged shredded cheese) occasionally as well.

Caveats: I know a lot of people don’t use coupons because they think they’re only for overly processed foods or experimental new foods, which is partially true. If you have a lot of brand loyalties, it’s probably easier not to use coupons, but luckily, we are very flexible in that regard. Also, if you are committed to using only organic or recycled goods, then coupons may not be for you. I buy organic milk, eggs, cheese and butter, and stock up on the hormone-free organic beef and chicken when I find it in good supply, and I try for the “best” produce I can, but I realized long ago that our budget can’t handle regular trips to Whole Paycheck. A friend of mine does most of her grocery shopping at Wal-Mart and BJs, where the prices are lower, but I like to keep my trips simple and close by, since our schedule only seems to get busier each new year.

But for me, once I got a good system going, couponing has been a big help in my shopping, planning and budgeting. I rarely go grocery shopping without a list, which is often none of the top recommendations for saving money in the grocery store, and I rarely end up without having saved any money– my average is between $15-20 each trip. The newspaper subscription paid for itself in the first month. For many families, that number is not that significant, but for me, it’s a concrete way to help keep our expenses controllable.

Sunshine

Frequently students complain to me that they would like poetry more, really they would, if they just didn’t have to analyze it, if we teachers didn’t make them sit there and pick at each little piece of it, if we didn’t make them dissect it and they could just enjoy it.

Today, the weather was balmy and lovely, so I took my junior class outdoors to one of our courtyards with a handful of odes by Pablo Neruda. We had been doing a small unit on the Romantics (Shelley and Keats) and the Metaphysics (Donne and Marvell), and after reading Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind, we started talking more about odes and villanelles. So we took a little detour, and read Dylan Thomas’s Do not go gentle into that good night and Elizabeth Bishop’s One Art, two legendary villanelles, and then I gave them Neruda’s Ode to Tomatoes, which they enjoyed and I’ve always loved. I asked them to go home and write an ode, a villanelle or both, about a natural force or object, and they returned with odes to stars, grass, water, a pet rabbit, and trees.

Today we had one of those 40-minute periods, and I decided to do some more Neruda and give them a chance to just experience the poems and react without having to be too analytical. I was partially thinking of the class where we’d had such success with Hills Like White Elephants, so we read the poems aloud and then I asked them to tell me something they noticed or liked. I had made copies of his odes to a cat, a dog, apples, some yellow flowers, and french fries, from his Odes to Common Things. I was also thinking of Dana Huff’s entry about the “I noticed” technique, and overall the lesson was just right for this afternoon. We read some lovely poems, they relaxed and laughed under the rare sunshine, and I got to introduce new people to some of my favorite poems, which is always a delight.